Niall Keating
Published 14 August 2018

We talk to the Whatley Manor head chef who is making a name for himself in the Cotswolds after working around the world.

What inspired you to become a chef?
I was brought up on food programmes like Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen. They were really inspiring. Just seeing how passionate the chefs were about their trade really sparked my interest so, like many chefs, I got my first job (aged 15) washing up in a pub. It was fast-paced and the whole experience intrigued me. Then I stopped pot-washing and began cooking; I loved it.

Having recently spent time in San Francisco and Copenhagen, what was it that brought you back to the UK?
I always planned to return to the UK as the food scene is as vibrant here as anywhere in the world and I really wanted to be part of it. So much of what happens in hospitality is about relationships. Sue Williams (general manager at Whatley Manor) and I used to work together a few years ago and had always kept in touch. This was all about lucky timing; I felt it was my time to return to the UK and at the same time the role became available at Whatley Manor.

What can diners expect when they eat at The Dining Room?
We talk of dining experiences: a sequence of dishes inspired by different cuisines, designed to make our guests stop a moment, ponder over the flavours, and make them want to talk about the dishes. When our guests have questions about a dish, there will always be a chef on hand in the restaurant to give a thorough explanation – the additional information seems to be very much wanted by our guests and it appears to add to the whole experience.

How did you go about compiling your menu – what were your influences?
The current menu is an expression of the different styles of cuisine I have enjoyed working with, combined with my own creative ideas, plus my many trips to the food markets of Korea, San Francisco and Copenhagen. Working with some of the UK’s finest suppliers is also a source of inspiration. My kitchen team also has ‘project nights’ where I encourage them to dip into their creative reserves to present new ideas – this, without question, inspires me too.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’m particularly fond of our Tortellini Black dish – I love the precision work required to achieve the final single ravioli and the explosive flavour that it delivers in one small dish.

Name one ingredient you couldn't cook without?
Fresh wasabi rhizome and wasabi flowers from the Dorset Wasabi Company. The creamy spiciness of the freshly ground wasabi goes extremely well with most proteins.

If you could cook for anyone (past or present) who would it be and what would you cook for them?
I think it would be wonderful to go back in time and cook for Escoffier. I’d be intrigued to ask what inspired him and what he thought of my own style of cuisine? What a privilege it would be.

Do you have a favourite restaurant?
I don’t have a favourite restaurant but Holborn Dining Room in London really sticks out for me. Proper food.

When you get home at the end of a long day, what do you like to eat?
True confession – I love to eat pot stickers and instant noodles or tinned fish. My real cheat food is poppadoms with chilli lime pickle and Japanese Kewpie Mayonnaise.

And finally… tell us something about yourself that will surprise your diners?
I take part in Ironman triathlons. I love being able to test my strength of mind to the absolute extreme. I took part in the Copenhagen Ironman in 2016 and Ironman Wales in September 2017.

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